An Interview with Sandy Rios: Banning Gay Marriage Tops CWA Agenda

Concerned Women for America (CWA), with more than 500,000 members, is the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization. On January 14, CWA President Sandy Rios sat down for an interview with the editors of HUMAN EVENTS.

Before she became president of CWA, Rios had become a leading voice in conservative talk radio. For eight years she hosted a drive-time news and talk show in Chicago. As the host of CWA’s national radio program, Concerned Women Today, she has continued as a force in talk radio, reaching an audience of one million listeners a week. She has also had a career as a profession musician, producing three recordings of contemporary Christian music. One of her singles rose to Number 4 on the Contemporary Christian Music charts.

In her conversation with HUMAN EVENT’s editors, Rios said that prohibiting homosexual marriage now tops CWA’s public policy agenda. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

HUMAN EVENTS: What is Concerned Women for America and what is your role?

SANDY RIOS: Concerned Women for America is the largest public policy women’s organization in the country. It’s been around since 1979. We have half-a-million members, we have a daily radio program, we have a newsletter that we send out, we have state chapters, we have 900 state leaders; our legislative action committee, a 501(c)4, also has a sister PAC. Concerned Women for America is a non-profit group, a 501(c)3. . . . And we have the Culture & Family Institute, with some of the leading experts on the homosexual agenda in the country. We also have the Beverly LaHaye Institute which is a think tank, which deals with women’s issues.

CWA does not deal with what are traditionally known as women’s issues. We’re obviously involved on the abortion issue, but it’s more on issues that are public policy that concern all Americans, that have a moral base. Religious freedom is one of our issues, and the sanctity of human life, the definition of family, education issues. We are an NGO at the U.N.

What issues are at the top of the agenda for Concerned Women for America this year?

RIOS: If you mean issues, rather than legislative items, that’s a little different. But I would say about issues, on top of the heap would have to be homosexual marriage. We are very concerned about that and we’re trying to do everything we can to try and stop that and not only in the states, but at the federal level. Judicial nominations. Who that’s paying attention wouldn’t be worried about what’s happening with judicial nominations because that affects all the issues, whether it be homosexual marriage, pornography, or obscenity. We have some of the leading experts on that.

There is a lot of talk around Washington about where conservatives are going to go in terms of promoting the Federal Marriage Amendment. Different language is being proposed. Where does Concerned Women for America come down on that? Do you want to see a marriage amendment that would prohibit so-called civil unions in the states or would you accept a Federal Marriage Amendment that basically just denies the word “marriage” to homosexual unions but allows them to be legalized by the states?

RIOS: We are not satisfied with a weak amendment. The case I continue to make is what it would be like if we were sitting here, 150 years ago, and we said that we wanted an amendment to outlaw slavery, but if states want to have “owned people,” they just have to call it chattel. Just don’t call it marriage, or don’t call it slavery. An amendment that protects marriage in name only is troublesome to us and does not go far enough. . . . I would also like to say that we don’t think an amendment has a chance of passing at all in this Congress. And so we prefer holding back a little bit until we have a different Congress, different people sitting there before this issue’s even raised.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado has proposed language. So you would not support her language?

RIOS: We have spent hours investigating this language. Our position on this is a position that we have taken after very considered consideration on this. We met with Dr. Robert George of Princeton University and members of the Federalist Society and some key leaders in the family movement, not everyone.

When was this meeting?

RIOS: This was last summer. We did this as a result of the disagreement that we had in the language of the Musgrave amendment. The disagreement was: Professor George’s understanding in penning it was that it would prevent civil unions, and Matt Daniels, who had formed this public entity that had begun to snowball, was selling the amendment based on the fact that he claimed it would not stop states from establishing civil unions. So right there we knew that we had a problem with the language. The guy who’s penned it and the guy who’s pushing it have completely different viewpoints. And so we met at the Federalist Society and spent a long time-it was a very deep conversation, very respectful, and the attorneys at that table all agreed that Professor George’s language needed to be-what’s the word, made more implicit [sic]. He agreed, too, at the end, after the end of the discussion he was very much a gentleman, not defensive at all. That the language needed to be changed.

So in other words, after the meeting, these lawyers at the Federalist Society, with Professor George, agreed that the Musgrave amendment had to be strengthened to make it absolutely clear that civil unions would not be legal in the United States of America?

RIOS: Let me add something to clarify. It’s so confusing. I’ve been on the ground floor so I can explain it to you. The caveat was this: If there were to be civil unions, they would not be based on a sexual relationship. So in other words, we would write the language in such a way that a grandmother and her granddaughter living together-if we were going to provide civil unions and make that available, we were not going to discriminate against other kinds of people. So that was part of what we talked about, and that’s part of what we agreed. We’d come up with language to provide for that because much of the argument for civil unions is really based on the mistaken notion that homosexual couples cannot get visitation rights in the hospital, cannot get inheritance, and there are other ways of doing that. That can be provided for legally right now. It’s not impossible.

By simple legislation?

RIOS: Yes. Or by power of attorney. You don’t even have to do that. There are ways, so that’s kind of a smoke screen. But it resonates because people want to be kind, and we do, too. . . .

Understood. But you came out of that meeting with an understanding that the Marilyn Musgrave amendment was not strong enough because it appeared to allow civil unions to be legalized by the states.

RIOS: Yes.

Your position, and the Concerned Women for America’s position, was that if you are actually going to go forward and actually amend the Constitution of the United States on this issue, it should ban civil unions, which are in fact, as Howard Dean pointed out, marriage in another name?

RIOS: California just granted civil unions and they said they’re granting all the same privileges and benefits of marriage. The only difference is the name.

In Matt Daniel’s group, they do support Marilyn Musgrave’s amendment with the assumption that it does allow civil unions to be legalized in the states?

RIOS: That’s right. And he’s very clear about that. That’s not subtle. That’s the selling point of his coalition.

Can you give us some idea of what conservatives and conservative groups are on your side of this and who’s lined up behind Matt Daniels? There are some people who don’t want their position known on this?

RIOS: Well, I would say this. We have met enough times that it’s safe to say that almost 100% of the conservative family groups do not want to see civil unions or domestic partnerships part of the landscape. The question is on how we get there. For us, we feel that it needs to take place at the federal level. And we feel that there’s precedent for that. If you look back at the history of Utah becoming a state, the issue of bigamy was huge. And it became a national issue, it went on for 50 years. And finally they said to Utah, you cannot become a state until you get rid of bigamy. In our minds, there’s no difference in the federal government taking a position on that, than the federal government taking a position on homosexual marriage.

But they had an easy way of doing it at that point because they could just set up a condition for admission to the union. They didn’t have to pass a law that applies to all states. And that is what bothers a lot of conservatives. They don’t want the federal government telling the states how to manage something they feel is a state issue.

RIOS: Absolutely right. We would like to come down the side of states’ rights, but this is a crisis.

Do you feel that the President is with you on this issue, or against you?

RIOS: Well, he’s given a very muddled, inconsise response when asked. He’s come down squarely to say that marriage is between a man and a woman and we’re grateful for that. He said that early on when he didn’t have to. I’m grateful for that part. But to the second point where he has been convinced, as many other people are in our movement, which is where we square off and disagree, that it should be left to each state to face that battle, I disagree. I think he needs to use his influence, which he has earned. . . .

We still, even though there has not been a campaign to explain to the American people, if they need it explained, why civil unions and domestic partnerships, and why, for that matter, homosexual marriage, is not a good thing for the country. The case can be made easily, but nobody’s done that yet and in spite of that vacuum, the polls are showing the majority still don’t want civil unions and domestic partnerships and they sure don’t want homosexual marriages.

If President Bush thinks it’s okay for civil unions to be legalized state by state, how is his position distinct from Howard Dean’s?

RIOS: That’s a very good point, and that’s exactly the point that we have tried to make to Republican leadership when we’ve had the opportunity.

Do you think the President can make homosexual marriage an issue in the fall campaign, which apparently is his intention, if he doesn’t take a distinct position from Howard Dean on the issue of civil unions?

RIOS: I don’t see-to me that makes no political sense at all. Not just Howard Dean, but Carol Moseley Braun, Dennis Kucinich, and maybe there’s one other that supports homosexual marriage. The rest of them don’t. Their positions are identical to this President’s.

It’s said that in the Senate there are only about 30 Republican senators who would support Musgrave’s amendment, and that there may be 20 who support an amendment that would outlaw civil unions in the states. Is that roughly similar to what your vote count would be?

RIOS: It’s probably pretty accurate. My opinion is to all of us that live here in Washington, all who live in the Washington political landscape, we know that they vote according to what would win them votes. So it’s our job, as conservatives on this issue, to make it very clear, to bring them along. I mean, how long did it take them to vote on a bill that outlawed phone calls at dinnertime? When they knew the American people were upset and they rushed as if it were some kind of emergency, as if people were going to die if they received phone calls at dinnertime. . . .

Do you think if the President personally spoke out on this issue and explained the right position that he could move senators to his side?

RIOS: Absolutely. No question about it. I think this President, and I’m speculating here, like many other Americans, thinks that his position is the compassionate position. What he has not thought here, because people have not brought it to his attention, is that we are talking about a lifestyle, if we talk about the homosexual community, the disease, and the early death among men. We worry about smoking? We tell our kids not to smoke and not to do drugs but we are encouraging a behavior that kills homosexual men ten to 20 years earlier than their heterosexual counterparts? Nobody is allowed to talk about the health risk here. Syphilis has quadrupled in the gay community in San Francisco. We’re talking about a serious medical problem. If we argued it on that point alone, it would be a terrible mistake for this government to support and encourage that lifestyle.

Have you made any effort to communicate to the White House your desire and hope that the President will lead and speak out on this issue?

RIOS: Absolutely.

What kind of response do you get?

RIOS: None.

Will senior people in the White House meet with you and talk about this issue?

RIOS: Not yet. But I can’t blame them for that. The next step is for me to do that-to ask for that.

In the Senate, do you see someone who’s a real leader on this issue, who’s taking your position and will speak up and fight for it?

RIOS: We had found someone but because of the confusion among conservatives, he backed off. And so, that was very disappointing. You know, courage is contagious, and there’s so little of it in the capital.

It’s hard because there’s no language that is out as a uniting force.

RIOS: Honestly, I blame a lot of this on us conservatives, because we not have been able to agree, and therefore we have presented ourselves confusingly to them. Because they are not naturally inclined to be bold anyway, this is an excuse for inaction. . . .

I know you said at the beginning of this that you didn’t think that with this Congress we could pass a Federal Marriage Amendment. What should be the strategy looking down the road?

RIOS: I think what we do is, we conservatives use this as a litmus test for all politicians whether they be city, local, national, whatever; that we ask them how they feel about homosexual marriage and civil unions, how we would want to word it. And that we start running people in the grassroots level that will take a stand on this issue. And that we replace our weaker brothers who are not willing to take a stand and then we bring this to a vote.

Is Concerned Women for America going to send out a questionnaire to the candidates for federal office asking where they stand on gay marriage and civil unions?

RIOS: I’m not sure about that right now. . . . We would like to see something that is a stopgap, like the Hostettler bill.

That would deny federal appellate jurisdiction over this issue?

RIOS: Yes, particularly over the Defense of Marriage Act.

If the Hostettler amendment became law, it would mean that a federal court could not order one state to recognize civil unions legalized in another state?

RIOS: That’s right, because we’re under great danger of that right now. It’s our assumption here, and we think that it’s a pretty good one, is one of the first things that’s going to happen if Massachusetts passes same-sex marriages is that they’re going to challenge the DOMAs of other states that say that marriage is between a man and a woman. So how can we stop that? We cannot trust our courts. They are absolutely loony.